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Book: The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures



This is a great book. I’m reading this.


Author biography

Dear Amazon Reader,

I’m the author of two books on recent human evolution. They are addressed to the general reader interested in knowing what the evolutionary past tells us about human nature and society today.

One, Before the Dawn, traces how people have evolved during the last 50,000 years. As of this writing the book has received almost 100 reviews from Amazon readers, most of whom have been kind enough to say they liked it.

The other, The Faith Instinct, looks specifically at religion. In it I first explore how religious behavior evolved in early humans, and then follow the cultural development of religion from hunter gatherer societies to those of the present day. One of the book’s themes is that religious behavior evolved because it conferred significant advantages on the first societies to practice it, and that it is of continuing value today. The book should be of interest both to people of faith and to those with none. It does not attack the central position of either side, having nothing to say about whether or not God exists; it’s about religious behavior, which everyone agrees does exist. Publication date is November 11, 2009.

How did I came to write these books? Not by any very direct or logical route. I was born in Aylesbury, England, then a rural outpost where cattle were stalled in the central town square on market days. I was educated at Eton, a school founded for poor scholars by Henry VI in 1440 AD, and then at King’s College, Cambridge, also founded by Henry VI. Perhaps this connection with the medieval past gave me a fondness and respect for history. Still, I got my degree in science and have spent much of my life as a journalist writing about scientific issues of various kinds.

My first serious job was at Nature, a leading weekly scientific magazine based in London, after which I moved to Washington DC to join Science, Nature’s principal rival in the United States. Nature and Science exist mostly to publish research findings but both have news sections addressed to scientists. It was in the course of writing news articles for Science that I learned of the epic rivalry between Roger Guillemin and Andrew Schally to win the Nobel prize. Their 21 year race was the subject of my book The Nobel Duel, (now alas out of print).

Another book that grew out of reporting for Science was Betrayers of the Truth, written with my colleague William Broad. We analyzed the many cases of scientific fraud we had reported for Science, trying to find common patterns in who commits fraud, why they do it, and why they are almost never detected by the vaunted checking mechanisms of science like peer review and replication. The book appeared many years ago, but nothing has changed since. Fraud continues to be detected by those with personal knowledge of the deceiver, not by the official procedural safeguards of science.

Leaving Science, I joined the New York Times as an editorial writer and wrote about political issues to do with science, the environment and defense. After 10 years of issuing opinions, I moved to the more objective realm of the paper’s science section, first as its editor and then as a reporter. A great benefit of reporting is that the job requires speaking to the leading experts in a field, through whom one has the chance to become very well informed – the perfect vantage point from which to write books. I wrote Lifescript (2001), an account of the race to sequence the human genome and its consequences. Then followed Before the Dawn (2006), the story of evolution since modern humans dispersed some 50,000 years ago from the ancestral homeland in northeast Africa.

Before the Dawn gave me the idea of trying to reconstruct the genesis of religion, a crucial social behavior that clearly emerged before modern humans left Africa. The Faith Instinct takes the reader from the religious practices of the ancestral human population, to the spring and harvest festivals of early agricultural societies, the historical origins of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the role of religion today in morality, reproductive behavior, warfare and statecraft. I learned much fascinating information from writing the book and reached conclusions that I hadn’t at all expected to arrive at. If a book is a surprise to its author, as this one was to me, there’s a chance it will contain something new and interesting for the reader, as I hope will be the case.

- Nicholas Wade




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